Sunday, June 17, 2018

My Other Dad

by Monica Bobbitt

Not all heroes wear capes. Sometimes they wear combat boots and camouflage (for 40 years). And sometimes they continue to wear those combat boots long after they retire, beret replaced by an old ball cap or a toque perched at a jaunty angle when it is cold. Well, at least my hero does anyway. And he also seems to have a penchant for striped shirts and sweaters.

To say that I am fond of my father-in-law John would be a huge understatement. He is so much more than just my father-in-law, he is my other Dad. He is my friend and confidant, my idol and role model— my own personal hero.

From the minute I started dating his son, John welcomed me with open arms. He was never Major (or Mr.) Bobbitt, he was simply John, until the birth of his first grandchild (my son) and then he became Papa.

John is an incredible father. As a teenager, I was always a bit envious of Dan’s relationship with his dad because his father was so open and affectionate with him, while my dad tended to be more quiet and aloof. My dad was a kids-are-to-be-seen-not-heard kind of Dad, while John was completely the opposite. He was always interacting with his sons, whether it was taking them hunting or fishing, days spent at the lake or a board game around the table. He never missed an opportunity to spend time with his boys. I knew long before I married Dan he would be an incredible father because he had such an amazing role model in his dad.

And Dan really was like John in so many ways. He had his dad’s impish grin, and all of the qualities I so admired in him were inherited from his Dad— generosity, selflessness, humbleness, loyalty, and integrity. Dan also inherited his father’s wild, devil-may-care play hard ways, and though it might have irked me on more than one occasion, I couldn’t ever imagine Dan any other way.

Before Dan deployed to Afghanistan, he told me that if anything ever happened to him, he knew the one person I could always count on, no matter what would be his Dad. He was not wrong.

From the minute John first walked through my door the day after Dan was killed, he has always been there for me and the kids. Because he knew his son would want him to take care of us, and because he loves us that much. He loves me that much.

John has been beside me every step of the way these last four years. Always supporting and guiding, never judging. Sometimes he understood the challenges I faced even before I did. He innately knew how difficult the transition from military wife to widow would be and when I struggled to find my place in the world after Dan, he reassured me that I would always be his family. 

“I’m afraid you’re stuck with me,” he tells me on a regular basis. (I haven’t pointed out that also means he’s stuck with me.)

I know without a doubt, no matter what, I can always turn to John. When I can’t see an issue clearly, he’s always there to provide me a much needed other perspective. And though there have been plenty of times I’ve doubted myself, he has never once lost faith in me.

“Darlin, I know there are times you’ve felt judged, but I’m here to tell you not one of us could have done it any better than you.”

So much of who I am today, I owe to John.

He is my number one fan and cheerleader. He was the one who encouraged me to start writing a blog, and he was the one who convinced me to speak in front of a group of soldiers (infanteers, no less) for the very first time. “They absolutely will find value in what you have to say. And you’re going to do it.” It's been over twenty years since he retired, but he takes a keen interest in the safety and well being of our soldiers and veterans. Once a soldier, always a soldier.

He was right, I did do it. And they did find value in what I said. Every life I have positively touched since that day can be directly attributed to him and his belief in me. He hasn't just impacted my life, he has impacted many. Far more than he will ever know.

John celebrates my successes with me and is as proud of all I have accomplished as my own Dad was. And when I fall down, he is always there to help me back up. 

And more importantly than anything, he has always encouraged me to move forward with my life. Because above all else he wants me to be happy—for real happy, not just on the surface happy.

From moving to dating, he has always been fully supportive. He has even taken to giving me relationship advice, and though he makes an unlikely Ann Landers, he is surprisingly intuitive in this department. He has told me in no uncertain terms that when (not if) I find my other guy, I’d better be just as happy with him as I was with Dan. “Or else. I’ll be kicking you in the bum.” I have absolutely no doubt he means that.

How fortunate am I to have someone who loves me that much? I am so very grateful for this man, my Dad who is not my Dad. 

I recently told him that I told my kids if they ever need to know what their Dad would think about something, ask Papa. That’s as close as they will ever get. He was silent for a minute, cleared his throat, and said,

 “Those are awfully big boots to fill.” 

I don’t know, from where I’m standing those footprints, though not identical, are pretty damn similar. Like father like son; like son like father.

You honor a man by how you treat his widow, and no one has honoured Dan more than his father has. It turns out that his father was an even bigger hero to Dan after he died than he was when Dan was a little boy.

Happy Father’s Day Papa. You are the best Father-in-Law I could have ever gotten stuck with. Although, as you like to tell me quite often, there’s always room for improvement. 

Love always,

You can learn about Monica’s father in See You Later Old Manthe eulogy she wrote for him.

To learn more about grief, resiliency, and life after loss, follow Monica Bobbitt on Facebook:

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